Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.
Re 16:1-21. The Seven Vials and the Consequent Plagues.
The trumpets shook the world kingdoms in a longer process; the vials destroy with a swift and sudden overthrow the kingdom of "the beast" in particular who had invested himself with the world kingdom. The Hebrews thought the Egyptian plagues to have been inflicted with but an interval of a month between them severally [Bengel, referring to Seder Olam]. As Moses took ashes from an earthly common furnace, so angels, as priestly ministers in the heavenly temple, take holy fire in sacred vials or bowls, from the heavenly altar to pour down (compare Re 8:5). The same heavenly altar which would have kindled the sweet incense of prayer bringing down blessing upon earth, by man's sin kindles the fiery descending curse. Just as the river Nile, which ordinarily is the source of Egypt's fertility, became blood and a curse through Egypt's sin.
1. a great voice—namely, God's. These seven vials (the detailed expansion of the vintage, Re 14:18-20) being called "the last," must belong to the period just when the term of the beast's power has expired (whence reference is made in them all to the worshippers of the beast as the objects of the judgments), close to the end or coming of the Son of man. The first four are distinguished from the last three, just as in the case of the seven seals and the seven trumpets. The first four are more general, affecting the earth, the sea, springs, and the sun, not merely a portion of these natural bodies, as in the case of the trumpets, but the whole of them; the last three are more particular, affecting the throne of the beast, the Euphrates, and the grand consummation. Some of these particular judgments are set forth in detail in the seventeenth through twentieth chapters.
out of the temple—B and Syriac omit. But A, C, Vulgate, and Andreas support the words.
the vials—so Syriac and Coptic. But A, B, C, Vulgate, and Andreas read, "the seven vials."
And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image.
2. went—Greek, "went away."
poured out—So the angel cast fire into the earth previous to the series of trumpets (Re 8:5).
upon—so Coptic. But A, B, C, Vulgate, and Syriac read, "into."
noisome—literally, "evil" (compare De 28:27, 35). The very same Greek word is used in the Septuagint as here, Greek, "helkos." The reason why the sixth Egyptian plague is the first here is because it was directed against the Egyptian magicians, Jannes and Jambres, so that they could not stand before Moses; and so here the plague is sent upon those who in the beast worship had practiced sorcery. As they submitted to the mark of the beast, so they must bear the mark of the avenging God. Contrast Re 7:3; Eze 9:4, 6.
grievous—distressing to the sufferers.
sore upon the men—antitype to the sixth Egyptian plague.
which had the mark of the beast—Therefore this first vial is subsequent to the period of the beast's rule.
And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.
3. angel—So B and Andreas. But A, C, and Vulgate omit it.
became as … blood—answering to another Egyptian plague.
of a dead man—putrefying.
living soul—So B and Andreas. But A, C, and Syriac, "soul of life" (compare Ge 1:30; 7:21, 22).
in the sea—So B and Andreas. But A, C, and Syriac read, "(as respects) the things in the sea."
And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood.
4. (Ex 7:20.)
angel—so Syriac, Coptic, and Andreas. But A, B, C, and Vulgate omit it.
And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus.
5. angel of the waters—that is, presiding over the waters.
O Lord—omitted by A, B, C, Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic, and Andreas.
and shalt be—A, B, C, Vulgate, and Andreas for this clause read, "(which art and wast) holy." The Lord is now no longer He that shall come, for He is come in vengeance and therefore the third of the three clauses found in Re 1:4, 8; 4:8 is here and in Re 11:17 omitted.
judged thus—literally, "these things." "Thou didst inflict this judgment."
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy.
6. (Re 11:18, end; Ge 9:6; Isa 49:26.) An anticipation of Re 18:20, 24; compare Re 13:15.
For—A, B, C, and Andreas omit.
And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.
7. another out of—omitted in A, C, Syriac, and Coptic. Translate then, "I heard the altar [personified] saying." On it the prayers of saints are presented before God: beneath it are the souls of the martyrs crying for vengeance on the foes of God.
And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire.
8. angel—so Coptic and Andreas. But A, B, C, Vulgate, and Syriac omit it.
upon—not as in Re 16:2, 3, "into."
sun—Whereas by the fourth trumpet the sun is darkened (Re 8:12) in a third part, here by the fourth vial the sun's bright scorching power is intensified.
power was given unto him—rather, "unto it," the sun.
men—Greek, "the men," namely, those who had the mark of the beast (Re 16:2).
And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.
9. men—Greek, "the men."
repented not to give him glory—(Re 9:20). Affliction, if it does not melt, hardens the sinner. Compare the better result on others, Re 11:13; 14:7; 15:4.
And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain,
10. angel—omitted by A, B, C, Vulgate, and Syriac. But Coptic and Andreas support it.
seat—Greek, "throne of the beast": set up in arrogant mimicry of God's throne; the dragon gave his throne to the beast (Re 13:2).
darkness—parallel to the Egyptian plague of darkness, Pharaoh being the type of Antichrist (compare Notes, see on Re 15:2, 3; compare the fifth trumpet, Re 9:2).
gnawed their tongues for pain—Greek, "owing to the pain" occasioned by the previous plagues, rendered more appalling by the darkness. Or, as "gnashing of teeth" is one of the accompaniments of hell, so this "gnawing of their tongues" is through rage at the baffling of their hopes and the overthrow of their kingdom. They meditate revenge and are unable to effect it; hence their frenzy [Grotius]. Those in anguish, mental and bodily, bite their lips and tongues.
And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.
11. sores—This shows that each fresh plague was accompanied with the continuance of the preceding plagues: there was an accumulation, not a mere succession, of plagues.
repented not—(Compare Re 16:9).
And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.
12. angel—so Coptic and Andreas. A, B, C, Vulgate, and Syriac omit.
kings of the east—Greek, "the kings who are from the rising of the sun." Reference to the Euphrates similarly occurs in the sixth trumpet. The drying up of the Euphrates, I think, is to be taken figuratively, as Babylon itself, which is situated on it, is undoubtedly so, Re 17:5. The waters of the Euphrates (compare Isa 8:7, 8) are spiritual Babylon's, that is, the apostate Church's (of which Rome is the chief, though not exclusive representative) spiritual and temporal powers. The drying up of the waters of Babylon expresses the same thing as the ten kings stripping, eating, and burning the whore. The phrase, "way may be prepared for," is that applied to the Lord's coming (Isa 40:3; Mt 3:3; Lu 1:76). He shall come from the East (Mt 24:27; Eze 43:2, "the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the East"): not alone, for His elect transfigured saints of Israel and the Gentiles shall accompany Him, who are "kings and priests unto God" (Re 1:6). As the Antichristian ten kings accompany the beast, so the saints accompany as kings the King of kings to the last decisive conflict. De Burgh and others take it of the Jews, who also were designed to be a kingdom of priests to God on earth. They shall, doubtless, become priest-kings in the flesh to the nations in the flesh at His coming. Abraham from the East (if Isa 41:2, 8, 9, refers to him, and not Cyrus) conquering the Chaldean kings is a type of Israel's victorious restoration to the priest-kingdom. Israel's exodus after the last Egyptian plagues typifies Israel's restoration after the spiritual Babylon, the apostate Church, has been smitten. Israel's promotion to the priest-kingdom after Pharaoh's downfall, and at the Lord's descent at Sinai to establish the theocracy, typifies the restored kingdom of Israel at the Lord's more glorious descent, when Antichrist shall be destroyed utterly. Thus, besides the transfigured saints, Israel secondarily may be meant by "the kings from the East" who shall accompany the "King of kings" returning "from the way of the East" to reign over His ancient people. As to the drying up again of the waters opposing His people's assuming the kingdom, compare Isa 10:26; 11:11, 15; Zec 10:9-11. The name Israel (Ge 32:28) implies a prince with God. Compare Mic 4:8 as to the return of the kingdom to Jerusalem. Durham, several centuries ago, interpreted the drying up of the Euphrates to mean the wasting away of the Turkish power, which has heretofore held Palestine, and so the way being prepared for Israel's restoration. But as Babylon refers to the apostate Church, not to Mohammedanism, the drying up of the Euphrates (answering to Cyrus' overthrow of literal Babylon by marching into it through the dry channel of the Euphrates) must answer to the draining off of the apostate Church's resources, the Roman and Greek corrupt Church having been heretofore one of the greatest barriers by its idolatries and persecutions in the way of Israel's restoration and conversion. The kings of the earth who are earthly (Re 16:14), stand in contrast to the kings from the East who are heavenly.
And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.
13. unclean spirits like frogs—the antitype to the plague of frogs sent on Egypt. The presence of the "unclean spirit" in the land (Palestine) is foretold, Zec 13:2, in connection with idolatrous prophets. Beginning with infidelity as to Jesus Christ's coming in the flesh, men shall end in the grossest idolatry of the beast, the incarnation of all that is self-deifying and God-opposed in the world powers of all ages; having rejected Him that came in the Father's name, they shall worship one that comes in his own, though really the devil's representative; as frogs croak by night in marshes and quagmires, so these unclean spirits in the darkness of error teach lies amidst the mire of filthy lusts. They talk of liberty, but it is not Gospel liberty, but license for lust. There being three, as also seven, in the description of the last and worst state of the Jewish nation, implies a parody of the two divine numbers, three of the Trinity, and seven of the Holy Spirit (Re 1:4). Some observe that three frogs were the original arms of France, a country which has been the center of infidelity, socialism, and false spiritualism. A and B read, "as it were frogs," instead of "like frogs," which is not supported by manuscripts. The unclean spirit out of the mouth of the dragon symbolizes the proud infidelity which opposes God and Christ. That out of the beast's mouth is the spirit of the world, which in the politics of men, whether lawless democracy or despotism, sets man above God. That out of the mouth of the false prophet is lying spiritualism and religious delusion, which shall take the place of the harlot when she shall have been destroyed.
the dragon—Satan, who gives his power and throne (Re 13:2) to the beast.
false prophet—distinct from the harlot, the apostate Church (of which Rome is the chief, though not sole, representative), Re 17:1-3, 16; and identical with the second beast, Re 13:11-15, as appears by comparing Re 19:20 with Re 13:13; ultimately consigned to the lake of fire with the first beast; as is also the dragon a little later (Re 20:10). The dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, "the mystery of iniquity," form a blasphemous Antitrinity, the counterfeit of "the mystery of godliness" God manifests in Christ, witnessed to by the Spirit. The dragon acts the part of God the Father, assigning his authority to his representative the beast, as the Father assigns His to the Son. They are accordingly jointly worshipped; compare as to the Father and Son, Joh 5:23; as the ten-horned beast has its ten horns crowned with diadems (Greek, Re 13:1), so Christ has on His head many diadems. While the false prophet, like the Holy Ghost, speaks not of himself, but tells all men to worship the beast, and confirms his testimony to the beast by miracles, as the Holy Ghost attested similarly to Christ's divine mission.
For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.
14. devils—Greek, "demons."
working miracles—Greek, "signs."
go forth unto—or "for," that is, to tempt them to the battle with Christ.
the kings of the earth and, &c.—A, B, Syriac, and Andreas omit "of the earth and," which clause is not in any manuscript. Translate, "kings of the whole habitable world," who are "of this world," in contrast to "the kings of (from) the East" (the sun-rising), Re 16:12, namely, the saints to whom Christ has appointed a kingdom, and who are "children of light." God, in permitting Satan's miracles, as in the case of the Egyptian magicians who were His instruments in hardening Pharaoh's heart, gives the reprobate up to judicial delusion preparatory to their destruction. As Aaron's rod was changed into a serpent, so were those of the Egyptian magicians. Aaron turned the water into blood; so did the magicians. Aaron brought up frogs; so did the magicians. With the frogs their power ceased. So this, or whatever is antitypical to it, will be the last effort of the dragon, beast, and false prophet.
battle—Greek, "war"; the final conflict for the kingship of the world described in Re 19:17-21.
Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
15. The gathering of the world kings with the beast against the Lamb is the signal for Christ's coming; therefore He here gives the charge to be watching for His coming and clothed in the garments of justification and sanctification, so as to be accepted.
thief—(Mt 24:43; 2Pe 3:10).
they—saints and angels.
shame—literally, "unseemliness" (Greek, "aschemosunee"): Greek, 1Co 13:5: a different word from the Greek in Re 3:18 (Greek, "aischunee").
And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
16. he—rather, "they (the three unclean spirits) gathered them together." If English Version be retained, "He" will refer to God who gives them over to the delusion of the three unclean spirits; or else the sixth angel (Re 16:12).
Armageddon—Hebrew, "Har," a mountain, and "Megiddo" in Manasseh in Galilee, the scene of the overthrow of the Canaanite kings by God's miraculous interposition under Deborah and Barak; the same as the great plain of Esdraelon. Josiah, too, as the ally of Babylon, was defeated and slain at Megiddo; and the mourning of the Jews at the time just before God shall interpose for them against all the nations confederate against Jerusalem, is compared to the mourning for Josiah at Megiddo. Megiddo comes from a root, gadad, "cut off," and means slaughter. Compare Joe 3:2, 12, 14, where "the valley of Jehoshaphat" (meaning in Hebrew, "judgment of God") is mentioned as the scene of God's final vengeance on the God-opposing foe. Probably some great plain, antitypical to the valleys of Megiddo and Jehoshaphat, will be the scene.
And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.
17. angel—so Andreas. But A, B, Vulgate, and Syriac omit it.
into—so Andreas (Greek, "eis"). But A and B, "upon" (Greek, "epi").
great—so B, Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic, and Andreas. But A omits.
of heaven—so B and Andreas But A, Vulgate, Syriac, and Coptic omit.
It is done—"It is come to pass." God's voice as to the final consummation, as Jesus' voice on the cross when the work of expiation was completed, "It is finished."
And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.
18. voice … thunders … lightnings—A has the order, "lightnings … voices … thunders." This is the same close as that of the seven seals and the seven thunders; but with the difference that they do not merely form the conclusion, but introduce the consequence, of the last vial, namely, the utter destruction of Babylon and then of the Antichristian armies.
earthquake—which is often preceded by a lurid state of air, such as would result from the vial poured upon it.
men were—so B, Vulgate, Syriac, and Andreas. But A and Coptic read, "A man was."
so mighty—Greek, "such."
And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.
19. the great city—the capital and seat of the apostate Church, spiritual Babylon (of which Rome is the representative, if one literal city be meant). The city in Re 11:8 (see on Re 11:8), is probably distinct, namely, Jerusalem under Antichrist (the beast, who is distinct from the harlot or apostate Church). In Re 11:13 only a tenth of Jerusalem falls whereas here the city (Babylon) "became (Greek) into three parts" by the earthquake.
cities of the nations—other great cities in league with spiritual Babylon.
great … came in remembrance—Greek, "Babylon the great was remembered" (Re 18:5). It is now that the last call to escape from Babylon is given to God's people in her (Re 18:4).
fierceness—the boiling over outburst of His wrath (Greek, "thumou orgees"), compare Note, see on Re 14:10.
And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.
20. Plainly parallel to Re 6:14-17, and by anticipation descriptive of the last judgment.
the mountains—rather as Greek, "there were found no mountains."
And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.
21. fell—Greek, "descends."
upon men—Greek, "the men."
and men blasphemed God—not those struck who died, but the rest. Unlike the result in the case of Jerusalem (Re 11:13), where "the remnant … affrighted … gave glory to the God of heaven."